Minority Rights Group International (MRG) Deputy Director, Claire Thomas, writes this opinion piece for the Thomson Reuters News Foundation.+ LEARN MORE
The Polish minority, settled mainly around Vilnius and in Salcininkai region in the south-east numbers about 234,989 (6.7 per cent of the population) at the time of the census in 2001. This census recorded Poles as Lithuania’s largest minority, superseding Russians due to the latter’s emigration to Russia.
Initially tense relations between Poles and the authorities improved considerably after the re-election in February 1993 of two district councils that had been suspended immediately after the August 1991 coup attempt. Members of the councils, which represent predominantly Polish constituencies, had been charged with supporting Soviet rule during Lithuania’s independence struggle and supporting the Moscow putsch.
In the first local elections since independence, in March 1995, candidates of Polish Electoral Action (called in Polish Akcja Wyborcza Polaków Litwy; AWPL) won in almost all the districts where they stood, and gained an absolute majority in Polish-majority regions. In Vilnius, the AWPL increased its vote from three to 20 per cent. The key success of the AWPL appears to be its advocacy of minority grievances, demands for increased cultural autonomy, recognition of a Polish university, and its voicing of concerns about possible job discrimination arising from the implementation of the language law.
In 2003-4 there were 83 Polish schools, which some 13,813 pupils reportedly attended in that year, and 40 mixed schools with Polish as one of two or more languages of instruction, attended by 7,201 pupils. Higher education opportunities in Polish are also available; two universities in Vilnius offer programmes in Polish language teaching. Overall, the situation for Polish education in Lithuania appears to be improving.
The Polish language is well represented in the print media, with at least one daily and numerous weekly and monthly publications. The Lithuanian Ministry of Education subsidizes the production of Polish textbooks for schools. On national radio there are regular if not frequent broadcasts in Polish, while there are private radio stations broadcasting in Polish. National and private television channels broadcast slots in Polish and there are opportunities to receive relayed programming from Poland.
Updated June 2015
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